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Raising Awareness: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2013
June 14th, 2013 Posted by

“It was just constant degrading. ‘You are stupid.’ He controlled all the finances and he controlled my whole life.” (Walk in Our Shoes: Working with Older Survivors of Abuse)

Patsy was raped and abused by her husband for years.  As she aged, the abuse intensified.  For a long time, she told no one.  Patsy is one of the courageous survivors who shared her story for Walk in Our Shoes: Working with Older Survivors of Abuse.  Walk in Our Shoes is an OVW-funded collection of videos to help service providers learn strategies for working with older victims and for designing and implementing specialized services that meet the unique needs of older victims.

Patsy is among the estimated 11% of older adults who experience elder abuse every year.  Elder abuse is the physical, sexual, or psychological abuse, abandonment, neglect, or financial exploitation of an older individual.  Victims may be abused by spouses, partners, adult children and grandchildren, caregivers, other people in positions of power and authority, and strangers.  Although anyone can be a victim—regardless of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental capacity, and physical ability—the vast majority of victims are women.

Victims face a number of barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help. Like other victims of domestic violence, elder abuse victims may feel a profound sense of guilt, shame, or self-blame.  Others may feel love or a sense of protectiveness for their abuser, who may be a long-time partner or adult child, or fear intensified violence or retaliation if they try to leave an abusive situation.  As Patsy recalls of her own experience, “I would hear other people…talking about people who were abused and [saying,] ‘Why didn’t they just leave? Well they’re so stupid for staying.’  Unless you walk in our shoes and know what we are going through and this fear that is so horrendous that just comes over us. It’s like a mist, it’s a very fine mist, and it just keeps coming more and more…”

Still other victims may be trapped physically or economically due to vision, hearing, mobility, or psychological impairments, or financial dependence.  As one survivor recalls, “To get out of that relationship and to get on with my life[,] it took a lot of effort on my part.  Here I had no money to speak of. I was leaving the house, going out into the world, with $89 in my pocket, for the month.  I had nothing really…. It was really scary.”  Indeed, over 75% of elder abuse victims are dependent on others for at least some care or assistance.

Fewer than 5% of elder abuse cases ever come to light. Even victims who do report violence often receive inadequate support due to lack of understanding and coordination among service providers.

As victims suffer and the elderly population continues to grow, the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) is working to dismantle the barriers that prevent elder abuse victims from obtaining support through its Enhanced Training and Services to End Violence Against and Abuse of Women Later in Life grant program.  This grant program provides training to criminal justice professionals and victim service providers on recognizing and responding to elder abuse, as well as direct services to victims. 

OVW also funds an array of training resources through the National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life (NCALL) and the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).  NCALL has developed an informative series of Abuse in Later Life information sheets.

One of our grant recipients recently reflected, “The [OVW] funds have allowed us to mobilize multidisciplinary groups of professionals and activate them to fully engage in education. . . . Before this project no one in my district was talking about elder abuse. . . . Now, everyone is!”

As we recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15, we at OVW invite you to take this opportunity to raise awareness about elder abuse.

Check out these federally funded resources:

Learn more or take action in your community for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day:

It’s long past time that we all start talking about elder abuse, acknowledging the reality of such violence in our families, our neighborhoods, and our communities—and resolving to end it.  In Patsy’s words, “I feel free except I’m [still] constantly watching over my shoulders and things like that.  But it has helped me so much to gain my confidence and just to laugh again and know that I’m a good person, I’m okay, and I’m going to be alright.”

Recognizing National Mental Health Awareness Month and the Importance of Trauma-informed Care

This May we join the Administration in recognizing National Mental Health Awareness Month. We know that the trauma of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking can have devastating mental health consequences. Unfortunately, we also know that the mental health needs of survivors frequently go unmet due to lack of community resources. 

Individuals who experience domestic violence or sexual assault are at increased risk for anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, sleep disturbances, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies have shown that 64% of domestic violence survivors and up to 94% of sexual assault survivors experience PTSD. It is critical to offer survivors high-quality mental health and support services that recognize the pervasiveness of trauma and its impact on survivors.

In recent years, domestic violence and sexual assault service organizations have integrated trauma-informed care into their service delivery model. Trauma-informed care incorporates an understanding of the pervasiveness of trauma and reflects an understanding that “symptoms” may be survival strategies – adaptations to intolerable situations when real protection is unavailable and a person’s coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. Trauma-informed care is designed to reduce retraumatization and support healing and resiliency in a manner that incorporates culturally specific experiences of trauma and provides culturally relevant and linguistically appropriate services. Organizations providing trauma-informed services create safe spaces for healing based on the principles of respect, dignity, empowerment, and hope. They also reflect an awareness of the impact of this work on providers and emphasize the importance of organizational support and provider self-care.

OVW is proud to support projects implementing innovative, trauma-informed strategies that reduce the mental health consequences of domestic and sexual violence survivors.  In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I would like to highlight a few of the amazing programs of our grantees providing trauma-informed services.

  • OVW’s Children Exposed to Violence grantees are training programs on Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy for children. This form of therapy is highly successful in improving mental health outcomes for children with a history of experiencing trauma, such as child sexual abuse and witnessing domestic violence.
  • The National Sexual Violence Resource Center is using OVW funding to provide an innovative course entitled “The Brain, Body, and Trauma.” This course, designed for victim service providers, gives an overview of the neurobiological and psychological implications of sexually violent trauma and the information and skills necessary to provide trauma-informed services.
  •  The International Association of Chiefs of Police developed the Trauma Informed Sexual Assault Investigation Training Project to support the development of officer skills needed to make effective initial response and investigative decisions in sexual assault cases.  Officers learn about the effects of trauma on victims, the realities and myths of sexual assault crimes, and how to identify and document perpetrator behaviors used to test, select and isolate victims.
  • The Rose Brooks Center in Kansas City, MO created a training on universal design and trauma informed care as part of their Safety First Initiative. The training connects the principles of universal design – creating spaces that are inherently accessible to all individuals, regardless of age, ability, or health – with principles of trauma informed care and is a core competency for both local domestic violence providers and disability service providers. Training participants identify practices they can adapt within their agencies to prevent retraumatization and improve outcomes for survivors.
  • Community Abuse Prevention Services Agency (CAPSA) in Logan, UT began reviewing their policies, procedures and practices through a trauma-informed lens.  This approach provided CAPSA with the opportunity to change their organizational culture, provide more individualized services, and work with people in a more holistic manner. CAPSA developed a Planning Ahead process that allows staff to discuss any particular stressors or needs a shelter resident may anticipate while living in a communal shelter environment. 

More resources on this important subject can be found at the HHS-funded National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health

On a final note, in our efforts to provide compassionate care for survivors, we often forget about the importance of self-care. The staff at OVW and I know from our own experiences that working with survivors of trauma and violence can lead to burn out and compassion fatigue. It is when we are at our healthiest, physically and mentally, that we are able to provide the best services and most compassionate care. I encourage you to be mindful of your own mental health needs.  

During Mental Health Awareness Month, we are reminded of the many ways in which mental health issues can impact each and everyone of us.  By working together I am confident that we can promote healing and increase the health of all our communities.

Statement by Acting Director for the Office on Violence Against Women Bea Hanson on the Agreements with the University of Montana
May 10th, 2013 Posted by

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced that it had entered into two agreements with the University of Montana to ensure that the University responds swiftly and effectively to sexual assault and harassment on campus. Information about the investigations and agreements can be found on Justice News. The investigations at the University of Montana, which make clear that improper handling of sexual violence investigations on campus may constitute sex-based discrimination prohibited by federal civil rights laws and the Equal Protection guarantee of the United States Constitution, complement an on-going effort by the Administration to address the devastatingly high rate of sexual assault on campus.

Young women aged 16-24 experience the highest rates of rape and sexual assault, and as many as 1 in 5 have been victims of sexual assault during college. These crimes on campuses raise unique issues and challenges. For example, a victim of sexual assault may continue to live in the same dormitory or attend the same classes as the perpetrator. On smaller campuses, a victim may wish to remain anonymous but may find this to be virtually impossible in such an insular environment. Victims may find it difficult to escape their rapists because the individual may have a seemingly “legitimate” reason for remaining in contact with or in proximity to the victim (e.g., studying in the library). In other cases, a victim may be harassed by classmates or by a perpetrator’s friends who claim that the victim “asked for it” or “provoked” the crime. Recognizing these challenges, Congress created the Grants to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking on Campus Program (Campus Program), which is administered by OVW.

OVW’s Campus Program is designed to encourage colleges and universities to adopt comprehensive, coordinated responses to violent crimes against women on campuses. Recipients of funds through the Campus Program, are required to provide prevention education on violence against women for all incoming students, train campus law enforcement or security staff on appropriate responses to violence against women, train members of campus judicial or disciplinary boards on the unique dynamics of violence against women, and create a coordinated community response to violence against women.

Since Fiscal Year 1999, OVW has awarded 321 grants directly to institutions of higher education to implement the Campus Program requirements and guidelines. Currently the Campus Program has 89 active awards supporting 150 institutions —including the University of Montana, which received an award in 2012.

As an extension of our work in the Campus Program, in October 2011, OVW hosted a 2-day National Summit on Campus Safety for College and University Presidents. The purpose of the Summit was to strengthen partnerships between the federal government and concerned college and university presidents and regents and elevate the national dialogue about sexual assault, dating violence and domestic violence on campus. In addition, to assist educators with their sexual assault prevention efforts, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a “Dear Colleague Letter” and guidance on sexual harassment in 2011, which outlines a school’s responsibilities under Title IX, a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities of recipients of federal financial assistance.

The University of Montana is not alone in its need to improve its response to violence against women on campus. But today, the University is poised to stand as a model of how campus officials can step up and make our nation’s colleges safe for all students. I commend the University of Montana for its commitment to reform. I look forward to partnering with the University as they work to address the issues identified in the Civil Rights Division’s investigation and create a campus environment where students are safe from violence and able to access help when needed. I hope colleges across the country will follow their lead.

Release of the Updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, 2d
April 24th, 2013 Posted by

Today, I was fortunate to join Attorney General Eric Holder, Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, OVC Principal Deputy Director Joye Frost and OJP Acting Assistant Attorney General MaryLou Leary in honoring 12 extraordinary individuals at the Office for Victims of Crime’s National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony for demonstrating outstanding service in supporting crime victims and victim services. The ceremony also provided an opportunity to gather together and commemorate National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAM) and Denim Day. And we celebrated a long-awaited accomplishment – the release of the updated National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, Adult/Adolescent (SAFE Protocol, 2d.). The Attorney General’s announcement of the revised protocol is a tribute to victims of crime and to all of our partners working tirelessly on the front lines to support survivors.

In the nine years since the protocol was initially released, there have been marked improvements in the “state of the art” for forensic medical examinations. The revised edition maintains the same traditions of standardization, quality, and best practice as the first SAFE Protocol. Like the first edition, this newest version is an indispensable resource, updated with improvements to reflect current technology and practice.

“The SAFE protocol is crucial to our efforts to end sexual violence,” said Attorney General Holder. “It is our responsibility to ensure that victims feel comfortable coming forward. The SAFE Protocol helps us coordinate and improve our response when these courageous individuals do seek help from first responders including nurses, doctors, advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors.”

The revised SAFE Protocol reflects the many important improvements that can help increase the quality of the services victims receive. There is information on populations with special needs, such as victims with limited English proficiency, victims with disabilities, American Indian and Alaska Native victims, victims in the Military, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender victims. The new version also provides more information on topics such as drug and alcohol facilitated sexual assault, pregnancy, confidentiality, and alternative reporting procedures. The revised version also increases the emphasis on victim-centered care and collaboration, including offering victims an informed choice about participating in the criminal justice system.

Advocates and practitioners who work with sexual assault survivors have a firsthand understanding of the importance of high-quality forensic evidence collection as specified in the SAFE Protocol. When these procedures are used, they make a difference. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE) programs have been found to improve the quality of forensic evidence, improve law enforcement’s ability to collect information and to file charges, and increase the likelihood of successful prosecution. The updated SAFE Protocol is a tremendous victory for victims of sexual assault and the dedicated SAFEs, SANEs, advocates, law enforcement, and prosecutors that support victims and hold offenders accountable.

We know that SAFE and SANE programs positively impact the experience of victims. SAFEs and SANEs are specially trained to provide compassionate care for victims while collecting evidence that improves outcomes for victims, police, and prosecutors. One study found that sexual assault victims are more likely to engage in investigation and prosecution if they receive care at SANE programs.

As we recognize SAAM, OVW is honored to share this new protocol with all of you as we work together to hold offenders accountable through improved evidence collection and prosecutions. Along with our grantee, the International Association of Forensic Nurses, OVW will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 21 to present additional details on the revised protocol and answer any questions about the update. You can register for the webinar here. I am pleased to share two fact sheets OVW developed highlighting the major updates in the revised SAFE Protocol. The short fact sheet provides a brief summary of the major updates and the long fact sheet has additional detail about the major updates. Download the full SAFE Protocol, 2d at

April Director’s Message – Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month

OVW joins the nation in recognizing April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAM) and stands with survivors everywhere in calling for justice.

Sexual assault is far too prevalent in our communities.  According to the latest research from the CDC, over one million women are raped every year, and one in five women have been raped at some point in their lifetimes.  Rape is not just a women’s issue; 1 in 71 men have been raped, and 28% of them were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.  In his Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Month Proclamation President Obama called on all Americans “to recommit to changing that tragic reality by stopping sexual assault before it starts and ensuring victims get the support they need.”

Sexual assault is not just limited to rape – it includes any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent.  When sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non-contact unwanted sexual experiences are included in the definition, an astonishing 45% of women and 22% of men have been sexually assaulted.  Rape and sexual assault take a profound toll on victims, as well as their friends and family.  When the physical and mental health of so many women and men is impacted by sexual violence, our entire nation suffers.

OVW recognizes that to reduce sexual violence, we must help communities improve investigation, prosecution, and victim services.  We must also strive to prevent sexual assault before it happens and provide resources to underserved communities.  OVW grantees and technical assistance providers are leading the way on these goals through innovative new tools and trainings.  This month there are several opportunities to participate in SAAM-related trainings and events:

DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies are also funding exciting initiatives in April.  I applaud these efforts and the work of countless justice system and victim service personnel.

Anyone can participate in SAAM, no matter your profession or location.  I encourage you to engage in national and local SAAM activities – whether sitting in front of your computer or out in your neighborhood.  The 2013 National SAAM Campaign is a great place to start, with information for parents, educators, advocates, and community members.  This year’s theme is healthy sexuality and its connection to child sexual abuse prevention.

Consider one of the following activities:

1)      Request a SAAM proclamation from your state or local government, such as this example from Alaska.

2)      Spread the word.  Campaign logos, posters and images for Facebook and Twitter are available for download from the NSVRC.

3)      Take a stand to end harassment during International Anti-street Harassment Week, April 7-13.

4)      Join the NSVRC for Twitter chats on Tuesdays in April.  #TweetAboutIt

5)      Support survivors and raise awareness about sexual assault by wearing denim on Denim Day, Wednesday, April 24.

6)      Don’t stand by, stand up: learn how bystanders can intervene to prevent sexual assault.

7)      One in five women in college have been raped.  By the time they are seniors, the number will grow to one in four.  Learn more about preventing sexual assault on university campuses.

8)      Attend the National Crime Victims’ Service Awards Ceremony sponsored by the DOJ Office for Victims of Crime.

9)      Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for publication in your local newspaper.

10)   Participate in local events sponsored by rape crisis centers, state sexual assault coalitions, universities, and others.  Events such as Take Back the Night, the Clothesline Project, candlelight vigils, and survivor speak-outs are not just held in April – look for opportunities to support your local community year-round.

The staff at OVW and I are saddened by every new report of rape – and the victim-blaming that often accompanies those reports – but we know we can change the story.  The Violence Against Women Act was signed into law last month with significant new sexual assault provisions.  With leadership from the White House, our colleagues across the federal government are actively addressing sexual assault through their programming.  And during SAAM, we have an opportunity to take action, celebrate prevention efforts, honor survivors, and build momentum.  We will still have too many causes for grief, too many lives destroyed, but I know that by working together we can reduce sexual assault in every part of this country.

OVW Leadership Participates in the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women

On March 15th, the final day of its 57th session, and after long hours of productive negotiations, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) adopted Agreed Conclusions on the theme of the elimination of violence against women and girls. The CSW is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is dedicated exclusively to the promotion of gender equality and the advancement of women worldwide. From March 4 to 15, 2013, representatives from Member States, United Nations entities, and non-governmental organizations gathered in New York City from around world to attend this year’s session, which included high-level round tables, interactive dialogues and panels, and parallel events.

I was proud to join so many high level federal officials as part of the U.S. delegation, including Valarie Jarrett, Tina Tchen, James Cole, Lynn Rosenthal, and others from departments across the Federal Government. The participation of these U.S. government leaders in this year’s CSW reflects this Administration’s commitment to building a shared vision of a world free from all forms of violence against women and girls. I was honored to participate on a panel on Sexual Violence and share the United States Government’s experiences (successes and struggles) in serving victims of underserved and vulnerable populations, particularly the elderly, American Indian and Alaska Native women, and people with disabilities.

After months of preparations, sharing ideas, experiences and expertise, gathering together to make a commitment to protecting women and girls from violence and discrimination in all forms was exhilarating and empowering. The Agreed Conclusions represent an important step toward ensuring that all women and girls around the world can live safe, healthy, and productive lives, free from the scourge of violence and abuse. The agreement provides the foundation to continue the unfinished work of empowering women and girls and reaffirms the critical role of women human rights defenders. These conclusions reinforce that States have a duty, regardless of their political, economic, and cultural systems, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls.

I am particularly pleased that the Agreed Conclusions clearly acknowledge the importance of investing in and protecting sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights in connection with the prevention, mitigation, and elimination of violence against women and girls. It’s also critical that the Agreed Conclusions address trafficking in persons, women and girls with disabilities, and indigenous women and girls. As often is the case in extensive negotiations, agreement could not reached on every important issue. Notably, there was no consensus on explicit reference to the applicability of the Agreed Conclusions to all women regardless of  sexual orientation or/and gender identity nor on using the term intimate partner violence, which I believe more accurately captures the range of relationships where abuse happens.  I feel confident that we will continue to press for progress on these issues.

As Ambassador Susan Rice so eloquently said, “Ending this global scourge will require comprehensive support service for survivors, justice for perpetrators, redoubled efforts to prevent assault, and the common recognition that women and girls have fundamental and inalienable rights.” I could not agree more and the CSW’s Agreed Conclusions mark a milestone in our journey toward a world that honors the basic dignity and security of all women and girls. At OVW we frequently witness what can be accomplished when knowledge, skills, and successes are shared to further a common vision. It was wonderful to witness the CSW adopt such an important Agreed Conclusion through this same spirit of collaboration and through a shared goal of ending violence against women and girls around the world.